A collection of United Soccer League owners upset with Nike’s recent sale of the league have threatened to break away and form their own competition.
Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson will not join the fight.
“No way we’d do that,” Paulson said Wednesday.
A group of USL First Division owners called the Team Owners Association on Monday issued a press release saying their ongoing efforts to restructure the league were undercut last week when Washington County sports apparel and footwear giant Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) sold the league to Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings.
Unlike most professional sports leagues, USL’s position as a league governed by corporate owners has left team owners with little say in the league’s direction, the owners have said. But in recent years, they have been in discussion with USL to restructure the league in a way that gives owners more say in its governance.
The sale to NuRock, which owns the rights to a USL-1 team but does not have an active franchise, pushed the owners group to declare their intent to “aggressively explore all options for the future.”
Joey Saputo, owner of the Montreal Impact, told the Canadian Press this week that their options include forming a breakaway league in 2010 if they are unable to reach an agreement with the league’s new owners.
Paulson — whose has been granted a Major League Soccer franchise starting in 2011 — said he has been part of the past negotiations and agrees with his fellow owners about the need to restructure USL.
“It’s the right thing for USL to be structured in a way in which owners have more control over league decisions,” Paulson said.
But unlike those franchises — Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Montreal and Vancouver — Paulson’s Timbers are contractually committed to playing in USL next year.
“The league is definitely at a crossroads and there is a lot of discontent,” he said. “I’d say the instability in the league certainly, to some extent, really makes more important the decision the city of Portland made in doing what it did to get Major League Soccer.”
Once the Timbers are in MLS, Paulson intends to continue operating a franchise in the USL’s Premier Development League for players under 23.
He will also retain the rights to his current USL-1 franchise for a period of time, with the option to sell or dissolve it.
He said he’s been approached by interested buyers, but won’t make a decision on the franchise until well after he has found a new home for his Portland Beavers AAA baseball club.